Summary: Declarations of emergencies create ‘states of exception,’ often justified by governments under conditions of war, insurrection, or terrorist threat. Emergencies promise the mass mobilization of a jurisdiction’s full economic, social and technical capacities to ward off an existential threat. Yet at the same time emergencies can threaten constitutional rights and can justify the suspension of normal politics. In this essay I focus on one particular consequence of political declarations of emergency, namely that the goals of public policy become worryingly focused on a heavily constricted and reductive set of indicators. In the case of climate change the dominant indicator is progress towards securing net-zero carbon emissions by a given date. But meeting the challenge of climate change for future human well-being demands a proliferation of diverse policy goals, the very opposite of what ‘states of exception’ bring into being.